The first act of Owen Michael Johnson’s “Reel Love” is a love letter to the formative years of your life, when movie screens were just bigger and video games felt like worlds. Check out our review below!
Written by Owen Michael Johnson
Ever feel your life is a film?
Following a visit with his Father, a young boy forms a relationship with the local cinema.
Obsessed with the silver screen, and convinced it is his destiny to become a director, he ropes a street-smart classmate into producing their first motion picture over the course of one fateful summer.
From Owen Michael Johnson – the creator of indie hit Raygun Roads – Reel Love is a bittersweet fantasy of imagination and memory, in the vein of Daytripper, Cinema Paradiso, and Jeff Lemire’s Essex County Trilogy.
The first movie I saw in theaters was the 1999 Stuart Little movie. At the time, I was completely terrified of spending an hour and a half in a dark room, with cataclysmic levels of sound and a gigantic cartoon mouse voiced by Michael J. Fox. I should also mention at this point that I was four years old, not just a grown man crying at the majestic sight of M. Night Shyamalan’s Stuart Little.
In a further effort to date my childhood, I learned to stay put in movie theaters by swapping between the auditoriums for The Rugrats in Paris and The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas. The sensation of Alan Cumming in a tiny CGI Great Gazoo body was enough to snap me out of my fear of the movie theater, leading to my current status as an obnoxious cinephile.
What I’m trying to get at here is that we all have different first experiences when it comes to the movie theater. Overcoming the fear of a dark, loud room and accepting to love it as a form of entertainment is a rite of passage many people come to pass in some form or another, yet it’s always different for each person. For example, your first movie was probably an actual one and not late 90’s trash, and for Owen Michael Johnson (or at least the child who serves as our point of view in the first act of “Reel Love”), he knew he’d come to love the movies when a star destroyer flew over his head, cruising through the narration text that starts off Star Wars.
The shock and awe which catapults the main character of “Reel Love” is captured expertly in Johnson’s art. The grounded yet childish aesthetic that’s found in the scenes showing the boy’s life is overshadowed by the Star Destroyer, the grand scope casting a shadow over the boy’s life. Over time, Star Wars and tons of other films from that era take over the boy’s life through constant quotation and by picturing everything in his life as an extension of his favorite films (The boy and his best friend as Han Solo and Chewbacca? Adorable!).
Eventually the sheer concept of film begins to take over more and more as the boy’s life progresses. Not necessarily in an evil way, but it’s certain that film has an undeniable influence on our young protagonist. In fact, film takes such a prominent role in this comic that it’s actually the narrator of this story. Film’s voice is nurturing, like a kind mother that’s watched over the child, and really everyone who’s ever seen a movie. At the same time, Film seems almost threatening. Not in a petty way, more like the way a storm is frightening. All-powerful, Film has utter control over the lives of many people; it’s up to these individual cinephiles to discover if this relationship will be symbiotic or parasitic. Film could raise its children to create great movies of their own or to be a non-stop quote machine with grand fanboy delusions of grandeur. It’s a conflict that’s wrapped up many aspiring film makers or actors, and seems to be the driving force behind Johnson’s multi-part story.
And really, that’s probably the most compelling aspect of “Reel Love”. Semi-autobiographical comics about peoples’ first interactions with pop culture are a dime a dozen, and it’s abundantly clear that “Reel Love” is Johnson’s love letter to film. And unlike a lot of love letters, Johnson’s is conditional. By exploiting the flaws in a life devoted entirely a film, in addition to the benefits, Johnson delivers a completely authentic depiction of the puppy love between a boy and an entertainment medium turned force of nature. It’s not a perfect relationship, it’s almost borderline abusive at some points if Film’s narration can be taken at face value, but one that reaps a wealth of experiences for the former. And watching that journey is both sentimental and a little horrifying, in the ways that many past relationships are.Continued below
Final Veridct: 8.2 – An incredibly intriguing read. Check it out when it goes on sale this coming July.